Traditions in Switzerland are vast specter of different activities related to seasons, fairs, festivals, and games that glorify numerous Swiss customs, giving you the chance to experience the true Swiss spirit and feel like a native.
In this article, we will list the most popular and interesting traditions in Switzerland embroidered on the Swiss magical carpet that will take you into the world of fantasies, beliefs, tasty food, and beauty.
Besides being one of the most beautiful European countries, Switzerland is famous for many things, such as chocolate, cheese, and luxury watches that fascinate tourists.
But, it is less known that Switzerland is much richer in culture and that it cherishes its traditions and customs. We will talk about:
- Folk traditions
- Switzerland Christmas traditions
- Fasnacht – Carnival in Basel
- Cultural do’s and don’ts in Switzerland
- Traditional food in Switzerland
Get ready to explore and don’t miss the opportunity to participate!
1. Swiss folk traditions
Switzerland celebrations and traditions are mainly related to the calendar and seasons. Many are of pagan origin or have a religious connotation.
The celebration festivals vary according to seasons and regions. Some are old with roots in ancient traditions, while others have appeared just recently.
According to seasons, there are celebrations such as:
- the ringing in of the vineyard workers in spring
- the Alpine ascent and descent during the summer months & the wine festivals
- the Chästeilet cheese sharing
- the Älplerchilbi carnivals in autumn
Since there was not much work for farmers during the winter, celebrations were held during this period.
Even now, the banishing of winter, bad spirits, and demons are a part of traditions in Switzerland.
This sort of thing is related to the numerous carnivals and year-end ceremonies. Other celebrations include historically significant events, like victories and successes in battles.
Festivals aren’t being held every season all over Switzerland, but some festivals are being held every season somewhere in Switzerland.
There are various local festivals in the summer months. Some of them are related to the Leben auf der Alp celebration of Alpine life, celebrated in many places at the beginning of summer with a euphoric ascent of the Alps, while it ends with a festive Alpine descent followed by other events at the end of the summer.
In all regions, people celebrate Swiss National Day on 1 August. Speeches are held all over the country with a firework display, parties, flags waving, and the lighting of lanterns and lighthouses in the mountain.
In summer months, some festivals are followed by animal entertainment, such as:
- the traditional shepherds’ festival on the Gemmi Mountain followed by Swiss folk dance
- the Walliser Kuhkämpfe cow fighting festivals in Valais
- the Marché-Concours in Saignelégier, a showjumping tournament with Freiberg horses and a magnificent procession
Popular midsummer festivals in the Lake Geneva region start in the middle of August:
- in Taveyanne (Gryon)
- at Lake Lioson (Les Mosses)
- in St-Cergue and Isenau (Les Diablerets)
These festivals are marked with concerts, folk dances, church services, and torch-lit processions.
If you are a lover of the mountain culture and folklore, you must visit these celebrations and enjoy the cordial mood and delicious regional cuisine.
In this period, wrestling tournaments are also being held, along with the traditional costume and yodeling festivals.
There you can hear Swiss folk music and the sound of the alphorn instrument, while the passengers are cheering are waving the flags.
According to traditions in Switzerland, the harvest and Thanksgiving are celebrated during the autumn.
Farmers sell the cattle and poultry, and with the money they earn they pay wages to the farmhands for the work successfully done during the summer.
Besides spending money, they are throwing parties in markets, stalls, and restaurants.
Plenty of autumn traditions in Switzerland have kept their market feature.
Some of them include many chestnut festivals in Ticino and the Bregaglia valley, then many wine festivals in Vaud, Valais, and Ticino, and the splendid Saint-Martin feast and market in Chevenez.
2. Switzerland Christmas traditions
Christmas in Switzerland has some universal parts, such as presents, decorations, Switzerland Christmas tree, and fairy lights. But, every country has its way of celebrating, including Switzerland.
Samichlaus, the Swiss Santa, visits Switzerland on 6 December and brings a big bag filled with chocolates, mandarins, and peanuts.
On 24 December, he brings gifts for everyone, which doesn’t differ much from the world’s tradition.
What do Switzerland Christmas traditions look like?
On the evening of 6 December, Samichlaus with his helper Schmutzli visits every family.
He is dressed in black, even his face is blackened. He knocks on the door and he is invited in, skipping chimneys, unlike other Santas.
He usually appears with a donkey that will carry his bags.
When he gets in, he tells his helper to put down the huge bag with the treats and open it. Then he gives individual reports on how children behaved in the last year.
Then the children listen to songs that will praise them and tell them how to improve, if necessary. Every child will have a chance to improve their standing by reciting a Christmas or Santa-related poem.
A good report with a good poem means that a child will get many treats, while a bad report with no poem brings a risk of not getting anything from Santa’s bag. If a child promises that he will behave better the next year, he will be saved from this fate.
Even parents aren’t excluded from this yearly report – Santa also comments on their behavior, in a funny and witty way.
Can you believe that almost every Swiss family bakes several batches of Christmas cookies?
They make so many different kinds, such as Zimtsterne, Chräbbeli, Mailänderli, and Brunsli. Apart from making them, the Swiss decorate them and exchange them in beautifully arranged boxes or bags.
In Switzerland, people also enjoy the tradition of counting the days until Christmas Eve. This is normally done with the Advent calendar – a Christmas calendar that counts the 24 days from 1–24 December.
During the holiday season, you can see a bought or a homemade Christmas calendar in almost every Swiss house. It is very exciting to count down the days until Christmas Eve.
In small villages, it is a tradition that 24 people do the decorations. These people are mostly families, couples, schools, and local businesses. They decorate their windows in a holiday theme.
The windows stay closed until the arranged day for public revelation. Decorations are usually made from a combination of black paper in different shapes and colorful dragon paper that will let the light inside the room.
Designs include anything from animals, angels, stars, nativity scenes, candles, etc.
This way, every evening from 1–24 December, there will be one window opened at a certain time. People gather outside to see the shutters opening and the picture revealing.
Usually, music or Christmas carol follow this moment. You can also enjoy snacks such as cookies, peanuts, and a hot drink. After mingling, people go back to their homes.
The windows stay lit every night until Christmas Eve, and sometimes a little longer. In some traditions in Switzerland, people go to see all 23 previous Adventsfenster before reaching the final 24th window.
By the end of November, you can see small parades of beetroot lanterns all over Switzerland. They are called Räbeliechtli and they are made by children who walk with them while singing through the villages.
3. Fasnacht – Carnival in Basel
The Fasnacht (carnival) in Basel is the biggest sensation among carnivals in Switzerland. It includes 15,000 to 20,000 masked fifers and drummers in charivari costumes playing the carnival tunes.
The carnival cliques carry 9 ft high transparent lanterns made from wood and canvas. The light inside emphasizes the carved out silhouette of an event that was significant in the past year.
It is a tradition that months before Fasnacht the theme is chosen and applied on masks, costumes, and lanterns. On Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon the Cliquen march along a planned route through the city, surrounded by spectators.
On both nights, people are visiting bars, singing and acting out events of the past year, followed by witty comments, the so-called Schnitzelbängg, or caricatures.
On Tuesday evening, masked musicians, the Guggemuusige, fill the streets with their improvised cacophony.
Carnival goes on until four o’clock in the morning on Thursday. Then a new year must pass, until the clock strikes four again on the next Ash Wednesday, announcing the new carnival in Basel.
4. Cultural do’s and don’ts in Switzerland
If you want to leave a nice impression, there are some things that you should know when visiting Switzerland.
For example, one of the traditions in Switzerland is to bring a small gift when you are visiting someone, such as a bottle of wine, flowers, toys for children, or just something small as a token of your appreciation and respect.
You should take off your shoes before entering someone’s house. They will offer you “house shoes” so there is no need to bring your own.
Shake hands upon arrival and upon leaving with everyone, including children. If you are close friends, three ‘air kisses’ in the cheek is appropriate, just follow their gestures and say their name.
When you are drinking wine, first say ‘prost’, ‘cheers’, ‘sante’ before you start drinking it. While cheering, eye contact is very important, and don’t leave out to say their names. Wait for your turn to touch glasses and try not to miss anyone.
To express that you like your food or drink, you can comment after the first mouthful, by saying ‘sehr fein’ pronounced ‘fine’. Swiss won’t like big words and compliments such as German words like ‘ausgezeichnet‘, meaning excellent. This would do in Germany, but it would be regarded as a little overstated here.
After dinner at a Swiss host’s house, it is a tradition to help them to clean up.
While shopping, say hello to everyone and then do the same as you leave. Also, say hello to new customers when they arrive. This is applied only in little village stores, not in large shops and supermarkets. In the end, if there are not more than 3 or 4 people, it is expected to say hello.
When the Swiss walk past each other on a hike, they greet each other by saying: Gruezi (pronounced: Grezi). Say back the same and keep on walking.
What is considered rude in Switzerland?
One of the biggest Swiss virtue is punctuality. If you are late for more than 15 minutes, your action will be regarded as extremely rude. So, if you are more than 5 minutes late, it is desirable to inform the person who’s waiting and don’t forget to apologize!
The Swiss are doing their best to make their country clean. Use garbage cans and never throw your waste on the streets or in nature, otherwise don’t expect any tolerance.
It is a tradition is Switzerland to accept every invitation to a dinner or a party. You will have fun and meet new people, and also keep in mind that cancellation of the invitations is considered rude. After visiting your friend, you have to do the same and arrange an event of equal value. If you invite them and cancel the event, you can expect that they will never contact you again.
If you are out with your Swiss friends, make sure not to make a lot of noise, because loud talking and yelling won’t be received well.
Always follow the house rules if you want to be accepted and respected in Switzerland. When they say that no loud music is allowed after 10 p.m., they mean it! You don’t want the police on your doorstep because the neighbors have complained about you for disturbing their peace.
The same goes for the use of the laundry room. If doing laundry isn’t allowed on Sundays, then everyone sticks to it. Avoid being considered rude because you are running out of clean clothes.
Of course, the Swiss are full of understanding and they won’t get offended if you don’t follow etiquette. Visitors aren’t expected to be familiar with all the customs, but it is highly appreciated when they are making an effort.
Traditional food in Switzerland
Switzerland consists of 26 cantons, so it is not surprising you will find a diversity of traditional Swiss food. Here we will mention the most popular ones:
Without a doubt, fondue is the most impressive cheese ever made!
It is a Swiss melted cheese dish that is served in a communal pot over a portable stove heated with a candle or spirit lamp. It is served with dipping bread and long-stemmed forks.
The easiest way to make fondue is to mix wine, garlic, and lemon juice in a ceramic pot or a heavy saucepan. The temperature should be over medium-low.
Then, in a simmering liquid, you add the cheese a little at a time, stirring well between each addition to keep the fondue smooth.
Tarts and Quiches
The quiche is really about the custard, whereas the Swiss tart is more about cheese, even though they both contain pastry, cheese, and custard.
The quiches can also be loaded with meat, fish, or vegetables, while tarts can be topped with various flavors from onion to sweet apple.
Swiss cheese tarts come in all sizes, yet the small are more appealing and they are typical for anniversaries and birthdays.
Another astonishing cheesy dish of Switzerland, raclette is cheese made from the Alpine cow milk.
Traditionally, it was the food of peasants who melted it on fire and then scraped it off onto a plate. Thus, the name derives from the French word racler, meaning to scrape.
Now, melted raclette is served with small potatoes, onions, pickled gherkins, and vegetables. Raclette is known as a Geneva traditional food choice.
As you can see, traditions in Switzerland make the country extremely wealthy with culture and local customs.
Through seasons, the Swiss keep the spirit from the past alive and nurture their ancient folklore and rural history.
If you’ve been wondering where to spend Christmas and taste new food, Switzerland is the perfect place for you, ranked as one of the top Christmas destinations in Europe.
To get around in luxury and style you can always hire a limousine service in Switzerland.
Or, if you want to experience something more exotic, do not miss the chance to participate in Fasnacht, the largest carnival in Switzerland.
Switzerland has so much to offer, so don’t miss the chance to learn about its traditions and find out what makes this beautiful country so special.